In order to put the declines of FNC’s prime time crew into context consider that at MSNBC only Lawrence O’Donnell was down 9% in total viewers and 15% in the demo. (We can call this the Olbermann Effect, as it is getting obvious that the return of Countdown has taken some viewers away from The Last Word). While Fox News was suffering declines with Hannity and Greta, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show and The Ed Show both posted big gains in the demo. Maddow was up 24% from her 2010 numbers during the same time period, and Ed Schultz jumped 42% over the Countdown rerun that aired in his slot last year.
Fueled by Casey Anthony trial, CNN had a great month. Piers Morgan jumped 37% in the demo, and Anderson Cooper demo ratings were 56% higher they were in 2010. If CNN and MSNBC are growing in prime time, the excuse that it is summer doesn’t really fly. The question remains what the heck is going on at Fox News?
May was also an infamous ratings month for Fox News as CNN grew by 60%, MSNBC grew by 26%, but Fox News viewership fell by 10%. That month saw O’Reilly’s demo number drop by 9% in the demo, Hannity dropped 6%, and Greta Van Susteren declined by 12%. However, Fox News is so far ahead of the competition that it will take more than a few months of decline before their perennial position at the top of the ratings is threatened.
I do think that there are a couple of potential explanations for what is going on with FNC’s demo ratings. It is possible that the Fox News audience is getting even older than it already is. A 2010 survey found that Fox News has the oldest viewers on television. The average age of a Fox News viewer is 65, and FNC seems to be going in the wrong direction. The declining demo numbers suggest that the Fox News audience is actually getting older, not younger.
Why can’t Fox News attract the viewers that make up the demo (age 25-54) audience?
I think part of the problem is that the network’s tone is designed to appeal to older conservatives, but FNC also faces the problem of Jon Stewart educating his bigger than Fox audience on a nightly basis about the network’s dubious practices. Fox News has gone after Jon Stewart and tried to discredit him as everything from a racist to a secret Democratic operative, because he has become the nation’s most visible media critic, and his criticisms hurt FNC’s attempts to attract younger viewers.
Even though Americans are living long into old age, depending on senior citizens to form the core of your audience is not a good long term plan. Fox News is having an unprecedented run on top, but eventually their inability to attract younger news consumers is going to catch up with them.
If Fox News can’t attract younger viewers, it will only be a matter of time before audience erosion catches up with them. It would have been unfathomable 20 or so years ago that CNN would be a third place news network.
If Fox News doesn’t plan ahead, CNN’s present will become their future.